Why would anyone fly a helicopter into the mountains in bad weather?Seven people dead, three families shattered and another sight-seeing helicopter crash in Hawaii. Now it is understandable that vacationers want to get up close and personal with the majestic features of the Hawaii landscape, it’s beautiful.
Some sight-seeing helicopter operators have a great track record given that they fly thousands of flights a year and most of the time deliver their passengers back safely full of the thrills that such rides afford.
But mountain flying is wicked business in any aircraft. The winds shift rapidly and some downdrafts exceed the capability of a helicopter or airplane to fly out of them.
Flights in Hawaii have another hazard and that is the mist that forms adjacent to and in the rain forests that the mountains provide terrain to protect. Flying in or near that is just blind flying in an area that is difficult on a good day.
This particular day however was a perfect storm because of a storm located over the island. It was accompanied by rain showers, turbulence and uncertain visibility and ceilings.
Now it is certainly possible that a mechanical failure brought down this helicopter and when the NTSB finishes and blames the pilot the real investigative work will begin by the litigators who know what makes helicopters crash.
But as one of those litigators who will no doubt be hired by one of these devastated families and a pilot for decades and many thousands of hours, I have a question.
What operator if safety minded would dispatch a helicopter into these conditions? The weather was bad. If a mechanical failure occurs, there is little or no time for the pilot to react. Often they fly low over hostile terrain and there is no place to make an emergency landing. So why would anyone stack the odds against a safe flight?
It is simply incomprehensible to me that with so many risks attendant to this type of activity in this kind of foreboding terrain and weather any flights were dispatched that day.
Having flown airshows for twelve years, I remember the greatest airshow performer ever, Bob Hoover, saying to me, “Arthur, the crowd doesn’t know whether you are flying 200 feet above the ground or 400 feet. So play it safe make your hard deck 400 feet.”
A sight-seeing flight is only a success when the helicopter returns safely. Maybe the principle of Bob Hoover’s admonition needs to be applied to this kind of activity. The ride is no less exciting when it’s close but not too close, low but not too low and by all means only in good weather.
This is indeed a sad day for everyone concerned and especially the families who lost their loved ones.
The Wolk Law Firm is always here to help.
Arthur Alan Wolk – 12/29/19